Science: Why is Zoom Exhausting?

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To be honest, as a trainer, I am not a huge fan of Zoom. Not for lessons more than an hour or two that is. It’s not just that the tools I teach need to be taught experientially – because you can teach experientially on Zoom. I have been designing trainings since 1997, and I am a veteran when it comes to online training. I am probably one of the few trainers out there who created their first online training in 1997. The topic? “How to use the internet”! I had to design exercises people could do alone using the internet. Shortly after that, I got hired to create Sesame Street training cd-roms for the European market.
I have been creating online trainings since then, on topics and tools related to soft skills and personal development.

When the pandemic started I was experienced enough as an online NLP trainer to know that Zoom would not work at the level at which I like to operate at, quality-wise. This was for a very simple reason: “the brain.” From the moment that the lockdown started, I decided to not go on zoom, but rather, to teach experientially in pre-taped videos that could be accessed at any time. The initial mistake I made (and later corrected) was that the experiential process of the teaching needed to be done under the assumption that the student would be alone, and then engaging online in work meetings with their friends and family. All top NLP trainers followed suit, those who tried to go on zoom, gave up. Even the Society of NLP acknowledged that teaching NLP on Zoom for more than two hours a day was too challenging for NLP students.

Zoom is simply too exhausting. And learning takes place in healthier environments than ones that deplete our energy. It is just not ideal for the brain to flourish.

So I started to dig into the fact to find a scientific explanation out there as to why Zoom is so exhausting.

1. High Load on the Brain

The cognitive load on the brain is much higher. We are designed and wired to have real life interaction, to read emotion, verbal and non-verbal communication. Our brains are not designed to do so on a tiny little screen, with a video view. The additional load on the brain is incredibly high to process the same amount of information.

2. Looking at Too Many Faces is Exhausting

On Zoom what you are looking at is fixed – you are looking at everyone. This doesn’t mimic the real world, where you are looking around, and looking at different people at different times. Also, all subjects are further away. On Zoom our brain assumes that we must make eye contact with everyone as if they are the speaker. In reality, only one person on the screen is the speaker. This requires you to continuously refocus; to tell your brain to do something that isn’t natural. It takes effort, it takes a lot out of us.

Blocking out others, and enlarging the screen of the speaker helps. The problem is that good teaching means the teacher is engaging, and that’s where everyone else pops into the screen.

3. The Increase of Stress Because of Distance

The brain is wired to consider faces that are close by as stressful on some level, because typically this only happens when we want to “mate”, or when there is conflict. People are literally “in our face.” And zoom meetings or trainings tend to not be a relaxing loving experience of our significant others face close to us. Anything stressful to us, fatigues us.

4. You are Exhausting on Zoom

Looking at an image of yourself is distracting and exhausting, as it is an image we typically don’t see.

5. Being Stuck

We are literally immobilized behind a tiny screen, and this is not natural. We need to move around much more than we do. In a live training, even though you may be sitting, you are still moving more. Think of grabbing your notepad, your coffee, and also the trainer is moving around.

For the fun of it, measure the space in which you move when you are behind the computer versus the space you occupy when you are having a real life conversation with someone.

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